In 2016, the night before recruiting at my first ever IWLCA tournament, I stopped by a local watering hole. At the time, I had been an assistant coach at a Division III school in my home state of Indiana for two years. It didn’t pay much. So, I also had had a job in outside sales. That particular night, I was laboring over a decision to either keep my job in corporate sales, or to give it all up to take a chance at a part-time head coaching gig at my current school. After chatting up a local for about an hour, he told me this:
“Sir, you mean to tell me that you’re willing to quit your sales job, a job that is currently paying you SIX-FIGURES, to take a coaching job that is only going to pay you FOUR? You realize that if you keep doing what you’re doing now, you can become a made-man in your town? You’re willing to throw your potential fortunes away just to be a head coach? Aren’t most of your friends married with careers and kids by now? Why on earth would you need to think about a decision like that? TAKE THE MONEY, BOZO!”
You know what? That creepy dude was right. Selling water coolers to businesses could have made me a made-man. And yes, a lot of my friends, even at 27, were married with kids. They had nice houses, nice jobs, and a “normal” life. But that townie only got a fraction of my story that night. Here’s the rest… (“Did I make me up, or make the face till it stuck? I do the best imitation of myself.” – Ben Folds)
I graduated college in 2011, playing a full four years of Midwest Division III lacrosse. I took the first two jobs I applied for. One was in retail management, and the other was in the nightlife service industry. I also started coaching at my high school alma mater as a way to give back to the sport and the school. Coaching was merely a hobby at that point. I liked the idea of being independent and all the perks of working for a bar, so nightlife became my lifestyle. Because my schedule was so hectic, I had regularly slept in my truck between jobs. My morning job manager was nice enough to let me bathe in the sink occasionally before my shift. I did this for a few years. Why? I have no idea. Maybe to float my coaching hobby? Who knows (“When all the little ants are marching, Red and black antennas waving, They all do it the same, They all do it the same way.” – Dave Matthews).
Those first few years post-graduation were definitely some of the hardest of my life. Not only was I working myself to death, I was also made aware of a career-ending back injury I sustained in college. Lacrosse was my release from all the hardships of life. So not only was there no time to have a social life, but my one release was taken from me. I’m not a psychologist, nor could I have afforded one at the time. I’m still pretty positive I slipped into a deep depression (“I find it hard to tell you, I find it hard to take. When people run in circles it’s a very, very Mad world.” – Gary Jules).
Don’t get me wrong, it was fun being a part of friends’ weddings and celebrating their work and personal accomplishments. But I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t jealous of their lifestyles. I was in a funk. The “Medicine Game” has always been my main default to get me through tough times. Since I had such a positive experience as a Division III student-athlete, I decided to leave Butler as their men’s lacrosse club head coach to enter the scary world of women’s Division III lacrosse. It paid a lot less than Butler, but I felt like it was my best shot at getting out of this funk before something bad were to happen to me (“You gotta hold on, ready or not. You live for the fight when it’s all that you got.” – Bon Jovi).
That leap of faith turned out to be one of the best decisions I had ever made. With all the chaos I was experiencing with my other two jobs and in learning the women’s game, I finally found my purpose. I fell in love with coaching the young women on that team and how much better of a man they were making me. When you’re in the service industry, you’re exposed to a lot of darkness in the world. But that group of young women made me want to change my lifestyle completely. I made it my mission that somehow, I will find a way to make coaching a career. But in order to make that happen the right way, I needed to down-size my workload (“If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself, and then make a change.” – Michael Jackson).
I quit both my retail and service industry jobs and took a job in outside sales working for a B2B water company. I figured that if I could sell the most abundant resource on the planet to a CEO, I could sell a college to a high school girl. The money was fantastic. And, it was much easier to manage a Monday-Friday 8-5 career as well as being an assistant coach. After the 2016 season, the head coach who hired me informed me she was stepping down and that she was recommending me for her job. I had a decision to make. (“I get up, and nothin’ gets me down. You got it tough, I’ve seen the toughest around. And I know, baby, just how you feel. You got to roll with the punches and get to what’s real.” – Van Halen).
That brings us back to the conversation with the townie above. He had a good point. Do I stay where I am: a recently successful businessman with a paycheck/lifestyle most would die for? Or, do I take a massive pay-cut and follow my dreams of being an NCAA head coach, albeit part time? (“Never compromise what’s right and uphold your family name. You’ve got to stand for something, or you’ll fall for anything.” – Aaron Tippin).
I had finally accomplished the comfort and stability I was looking for – the lifestyle my friends had. I was no longer jealous of their success, as I was now one of them. Yet, it still wasn’t enough. But now that I think about it, I doubt those friends whom I envied have ever received the following text:
“Hey coach Colin! I never got the opportunity to thank you for the letter you wrote me for my senior day. In these past few weeks, I’ve gotten laid off from my job, I was dumped (by my boyfriend), and I was hit by a drunk driver. You and I had rarely seen eye to eye on the field. You frustrated me. I never fully understood your style of coaching. I do now, though. I’m in a rough spot personally. But I know that if you could get past your tough times, I can too. Thank you. You inspire me. Keep it up.”
I quit my sales job, took the head coaching job, and hired her as an assistant coach.
After only a year as a head coach and tying the program record for the most wins in a season, I ran out of money. I knew I would eventually, but I was still scared. I couldn’t coach there at that salary any longer. But most importantly, I couldn’t build a team my way unless coaching was full-time. So, I had to make a change… again. I applied for a variety of coaching jobs all over the country. Most didn’t respond; no one offered me a job. It would crush me if everything I had worked for was taken from me again (“Just because He doesn’t answer, doesn’t mean He don’t care. Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.” – Garth Brooks).
Indy 500 weekend of 2017, Anderson University called with a head coaching offer, which I accepted. The opportunity kept me in my home town, and enabled me to continue to grow the game in my home state of Indiana. We are currently playing in our inaugural season and have a bright future. As I look back and reflect on this wild life I have lived so far, it’s hard to deny all the unique lessons I have learned on this journey. I learned that every little experience you have, no matter how insignificant it may seem at the time, will affect you in the future. I learned that no one person’s timeline should be like anyone else’s, ESPECIALLY yours. I learned to embrace the grind. The grind brings you fulfillment and inspires others. Lastly, I learned that you should own your story and own what makes you different – after all, that’s basically what recruiting is anyways, right (“The wind outside is frightening, but it’s kinder than the lightning life in the city It’s a hard life to live but it gives back what you give.” – REO Speedwagon)?
Even in the coaching world now, a lot of young prospective coaches take the Graduate Assistantship, to assistant coach, to head coach route. I took the bartender to salesman to coaching route. And you know what? That’s fine by me. Had I stayed in sales, I would have been wealthy, but mediocre. Instead, I’m happy and have a purpose. We as coaches push our players to and beyond their limits in hopes that they’ll accomplish greatness. We are hypocrites if we don’t push ourselves in the exact same way (“Dream until your dreams come true.” – Aerosmith).
I’m not sure who will read this, or even if this entry will make the cut. If you don’t take away anything else from this message, take away this – you MUST take a leap of faith in order to see what you’re made of. And once you do, OWN IT. I do know that with as much as coaching rewards you, it does take a lot out of you. Location, recruiting struggles, family sacrifices, budget, etc., will all test your love of the game. Good! College coaching isn’t for everyone; but, it’s perfect for a lot of people. Do the little things right. Embrace where you are now. And, know that the best is yet to come. (“Live your life with arms wide open. Today is where your book begins. The rest is still unwritten.” – R.E.M.)
In the day we sweat it out on the streets of a runaway American dream
At night we ride through the mansions of glory in suicide machines
Sprung from cages out on highway nine,
Chrome wheeled, fuel injected, and steppin’ out over the line
Baby this town rips the bones from your back
It’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap
We gotta get out while we’re young
`Cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run